This editorial is not really about the BASIS school

Well, it kind of is. It seems to be consensus that Red Hook is about to see some sort of seismic change – from the somewhat sleepy backwater community that is hard to get to, under populated, with a legacy of decay, crime, and Lillie’s – into something as yet undetermined.

Yale School of Architecture imagines a Red Hook future.

Yale School of Architecture imagines a Red Hook future.

We have digested Fairway and IKEA and with all the publicity we have received since Sandy and Banksy  the rest of the world is seeing us differently. Europe sees the value in the Statue of Liberty views and is ready to invest a fortune. Successful artists are plopping their fortune down to build their mansions inside of once dilapidated houses. Investment cartels are about to buy a packaged up industrial buildings a block from DeFontes.

And now, a bus parking lot is about to be turned into an elite private school by an education company looking to make lots of money – within eyeshot of our public housing population.

It is likely that BASIS will receive their approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals and go ahead with the school – rushing to be able to import one thousand entitled children whose parents can’t quite see paying $40,000 a year in one of Brooklyn’s established private schools, but feel that their children deserve better than a public school. It will be interesting to see how that all plays out.

But this is not about that.

It is about the large number of other non – or underdeveloped lots in our neighborhood. Alphabet City in the Lower East Side of Manhattan used to be full of them. As was Williamsburg. Fourth Avenue was once home to mostly garages and tire changers. Going back before its restaurant renaissance – Smith Street had probably the largest concentration of nail salons and beauty parlors in the world. Yes, there was a time when the Red Rose restaurant was an outlier. All these places today are very far removed from those days, not really that long ago.

It’s happening to us. Little by little.

Around twenty years ago, community leaders together with the community board prepared a vision for Red Hook’s future, called the 197A report, which was submitted and approved by the city. This is what the vision was back then:

  1. Promote opportunities for the development of Red Hook’s main asset –its people–including improved housing, social services and youth services and the expansion of the residential community.
  2. Support the preservation and expansion of industrial and maritime activity where it is currently solidly positioned in the northwest and southeast sections of Red Hook.
  3. Promote employment and business opportunities for local residents.
  4. Promote new residential development in the context of an economically,socially, and physically integrated community.
  5. Guide future development in a way that minimizes conflicts between industrial and residential communities.
  6. Strengthen, support, and expand the burgeoning arts community.
  7. Improve access to, egress from, and circulation within Red Hook bypublic transportation.
  8.  Strengthen existing retail commercial areas.
  9. Revitalize and create public access to the waterfront, one of Red Hook’s major assets.

A careful reading of these show that all the studies and reports since then are pretty much a rehash of these nine goals. What is different is the real possibility of big money coming in and making these goals impossible. What is especially worrisome to us at the Star-Revue is point #3 – employment and business opportunities for local residents.

The population of the Red Hook Houses is still underachieving. Red Hook Initiative has shown that when opportunity is made available, large numbers of the poor will take advantage of it and raise themselves up and in many cases out of public housing – with college degrees and out of the unemployment and blue collar work of their parents, into careers with good futures. The Housing population includes a large potential working force that corporate America needs to discover.

Which is why we think the BASIS school is basically a lost opportunity. Property owners and developers make money by renting and building. It is true that the owner of the lot on Bay and Columbia is improving the property with a $50 million school building from which he will collect rent – much more rent than the buses and trucks that have previously parked there. It really doesn’t matter to him what gets built there. He is entitled to develop – within the zoning restrictions – any way he wants.

It is on us, the Red Hook Community, for not insisting from government the same kinds of economic incentives that other communities have received. Tax incentives have played a large part in attracting and keeping businesses in Manhattan and other areas. These businesses are all large employers – jobs from entry-level to professional.

Phoenix Beverage received many incentives to locate their operation at Piers 7 and 11 instead of moving to New Jersey. Our idea is for the city to make it possible for corporations in need of back office and/or research facilities to make Red Hook their home.

That’s just our idea. The time has long passed for the whole of Red Hook to come together and reach some sort of consensus as to the future of our unimproved parcels – and lobby our elected officials to move us in that direction.

Last year there was a meeting of something called The Red Hook Summit, which we were hoping would continue the work of the 197A plan. We have no idea what happened at this meeting, since we were barred from attending. We were told that information would be forthcoming to us as to what was achieved, but we have received nothing. Their website seems to be removed, and their Facebook page is filled with information about the Added Value farm.

Why not reconvene the Summit, this time openly and transparently, and try to build on 197A, so that the next time someone proposes building something so tremendously out of character with our community as the BASIS school, there will be alternatives already in place.

Sandy is not the only disaster that can befall us.

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3 Responses to This editorial is not really about the BASIS school

  1. John Siciliani says:

    To the Editor:

    The editorial entitled “This Editorial is not Necessarily about the BASIS School” was insightful and thought-provoking. I would like to offer a vision that I have personally shared with the Red Hook Initiative with regard to new development, energy, and economic opportunity. With new residential and commercial properties being planned, it is necessary that the community is assured these projects bring both economic opportunity to local residents and the electricity supply these new projects will demand. Further demand on an already taxed grid will only result in more blackouts and an even less secure energy supply.

    To achieve this, we should develop a strategy that urges city officials to require new developments to either install new renewable energy (solar) capacity or invest in a fund that will support the installation of new solar projects in Red Hook where they may be more feasible. Additional incentives should be made to support a micro-grid approach to assure that in the case of another Sandy, basic levels of electricity are available for essential loads.

    Alternately, we should encourage these projects use a locally trained workforce consisting of residents of Red Hook. I have been talking with the Red Hook Initiative about developing a program that will educate and train kids and young adults on the basics of electricity and energy usage as well as the more technical and economic aspects of renewable and solar technology deployment. This will hopefully result in a motivated and interested pool of young adults who are willing to both learn from and work for businesses installing the new renewable energy capacity in the community.

    The end result will be that Red Hook’s grid is strengthened and better prepared for a changing climate and Red Hook’s residents will learn a growing trade in an industry that is bound to offer significant opportunities in the future. Lastly, Red Hook will serve as a model for other communities to follow suit and set an example to those interested in fighting climate change by reducing its own carbon footprint.

    The working title of this idea is the South Brooklyn Solar Initiative and the initial steps should be a meeting that involves all interested parties along with a petition to city officials that residents and businesses support this idea. I believe this is a modern addendum to 197A that couldn’t be envisioned 20 years ago but now should be an essential element of all further development.

    John Siciliani
    President, JFS Renewables
    Founder, So. Brooklyn Solar Initiative

  2. Stephen kondaks says:

    If it’s a school versus 100 or 200 diesel buses; if it’s 2 scholarships versus no scholarships the choice seems clear.

  3. Jason says:

    This is a very well articulated argument and I really appreciate the author sharing the 197A, plan, which as far as I can see, include aspirations still shared by the vast majority of Red Hook residents and the local community.
    The BASIS school is a major offense to Red Hook and her residents and must be fought tooth and nail, and kept away. This is a terrible plan for our community, and not the kind of thing we need. If you look over the information provided by the business people who “manage” the school, it it very obvious that to them Red Hook is nothing more than an investment opportunity. This model for education is poorly conceived, and the families and students coming into BASIS school will never be welcomed here – this will be a nonstop source of tension and will create divisions among our residents.
    Read for yourselves how creepy and Orwellian the corporate-speak of this school is:
    “The private school is a new product for BASIS.ed that gives us the opportunity to expand access for more students. The outstanding curriculum designed by BASIS.ed and tested and proven in the 12 charter schools, will now be used in this new chapter of the company.
    We are taking our proven curriculum and our management systems and putting them in a new space.”
    I think we can without these kinds of “products” and “management systems” slithering into our wonderful neighborhood, inches away from the RH houses and with no sensitivity to the existing social conditions here. These people cannot be allowed to launch this business here. Our kids deserve better.

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